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America's Supercar That Never Was

Car Culture / 25 Comments

The ME Four-Twelve had a mid-mounted V12 engine, 4 turbos, and looked like it could eat a Ferrari for breakfast.

The Chrysler ME Four-Twelve concept isn't a car we have to imagine: this one actually existed. What we do wonder is what could have been if the Chrysler and Daimler-Benz merger had gone well. In the book, Taken For A Ride, the author explains that the world's reaction at the time to the merger was one of excitement and positivity, and that: "DaimlerChrysler would be the new model for automotive synergies, a paradigm-busting leap forward in cost-efficient manufacturing and development of cars and trucks."

That wasn't the case. The $36 billion merger took place in 1998 and ran until 2007 before it was dissolved and Cerberus picked up an 81% stake of Chrysler for a mere $7.4 billion. The magnitude of Daimler-Benz's mismanagement of the merger registers was, ultimately, an epic disappointment. Cars that came out of this period include the Dodge Journey, the Dodge Caliber and Chrysler Sebring, the Jeep Compass and Patriot, as well as the Dodge Nitro and Jeep Liberty. Under Dieter Zetsche, there was the potential for a big swing for the fences in terms of collaboration between Mercedes and Chrysler though, and the ME Four-Twelve could have been that.

What was the ME Four-Twelve?

In 2004, the ME Four-Twelve concept debuted at the Detroit Auto Show as a mid-engined V12 pumped up by 4 turbochargers. The engine was a 6.0-liter AMG-derived work of engineering art pushing out 850 horsepower at 5,750 rpm and 850 lb-ft of torque at just 2,500-4,500 rpm. It powered the rear wheels using a specifically engineered 7-speed wet-clutch transmission using paddle shifters, and only had to move 2,888 pounds of weight. The lightness was added by using a honeycomb style carbon-fiber and aluminum chassis and a liberal helping of carbon-fiber through the rest of the car. Even the seats were made of a carbon-fiber structure and the brakes were made of a ceramic composite.

Chrysler claimed the ME Four-Twelve could make it from 0-60 mph in 2.6 seconds and to 100 mph in 6.2 seconds. The power to weight ratio was better than anything around the time, including the Ferrari Enzo, McLaren F1 and Bugatti Veyron. On top of all that, the suspension system was state of the art with adjustable shock absorbers using stainless steel pushrods matched with dual control arms front and rear. To top it all off, engineers recorded an eyeball straining 2 g being pulled under braking in testing.

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How did it look and drive?

Chrysler's design language was strong at the time and was incorporated into the ME Four-Twelve to create something elegant but aggressive that doesn't look dated 15 years later. It was a concept, but it was clearly put together for possible production rather than as a pie in the sky idea. The interior looks of its time in places, but it also looks like a finished product that, again, wouldn't look out of place today.

The concept displayed didn't run, but the engineers within SRT put a working model together, and even let journalists loose with it around the Laguna Seca track as a work in progress. At the time, Motor Trend declared that Chrysler had shown it could build something to take on the European supercars at the top of the game

What actually happened?

Zetsche was quoted as saying "We have a very clear and good definition of the technical specifications of the car. With that, we can do a [cost] calculation for building 10, 100, and 1,000 cars and figure out the price points." Zetsche also said that there's "no doubt" that if the numbers added up and people would be prepared to pay "between $250,000 and $750,000 for a 248-mph Chrysler," that he would give the ME Four-Twelve the green light for production.

Unfortunately, in 2005 it was reported that an internal study had demonstrated it would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the concept fully during a time when Chrysler needed to be rebuilding. It was also pointed out that the car would have been faster and cost more than the Mercedes SLR McLaren, and some people at the top of the Mercedes chain of command didn't appreciate that idea at all.

What could have been?

It could have been a world-class American luxury supercar, albeit with a German heart. It would have been a great sibling for the hardcore Ford GT. While many, including the people in charge, didn't see a business case for it we wonder if rich American enthusiasts might have had something to say about that. America has always had a lust for both supercars and American road monsters, and this could have been both at the same time.

If the merger hadn't been so horribly mismanaged and Chrysler had been allowed to develop such a magnificent halo car with cutting edge technology, the brand's status could have been so much more than it is today. Zetsche appeared to understand that. "Even though Chrysler doesn't have much of a race history," he said, "it was an engineering-led brand. That's where we want to go back to, and there's no better way to prove the capability of our engineers than going to the edge. I'm convinced that, if we can make the car work, it'll be good for the brand."

Ultimately, that never happened and 15 years later its GM that could take it to the Europeans with the mid-engined C8 Corvette having sharpened their swords with the current generation of supercar embarrassing front engined Corvette. What it probably won't have, if history is any indication, is the level of luxury supercar owners want and the ME Four-Twelve was shaping up to deliver.

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